Author: Sarah Dessen
Synopsis: Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!
Sarah Dessen writes novels that simply work for me. Colour me surprised when Saint Anything showed up at my doorstep and I was treated to a much darker novel than Dessen herself is often known for. Saint Anything looks at issues of family, particularly when you were once the invisible child forced into the spotlight.
Of all of Dessen’s heroines, Sydney was the one who I had an intimidate connection to. When he brother is charged with drunk driving and sent to prison, Sydney’s family is turned upside down in a way that they feel they have no control over. Peyton was the “favourite” child, or by favourite, I mean the one getting into the most trouble. While he’s in jail, Sydney is forced out of being invisible, and into a place of visibility — something she frequently admits to not being comfortable with.
Growing up, my family ended up in a similar situation, so it was easy for me to understand Sydney’s feelings and perspective about her family, her brother, and the change that she is forced into. There’s this frustration from parents that they often don’t need to worry about you “as much” because your sibling is in the spotlight and taking control. Sydney was used to that, so it’s interesting how overbearing and obsessive her parents become throughout the novel and how Sydney eventually has to fight for herself, to make them understand that she isn’t someone’s project, that she wants to be accepted and be herself.
Sydney’s mother by far was the most frustrating and aggravating character in the novel, but her intentions are actually completely understandable. It’s interesting because the novel contrasts her with Mac and Layla’s mother, a woman known for being accepting and honest, who unfortunately is quite ill. Sydney spends a lot of the novel comparing herself and her situation to others, wondering if in a lot of ways if she was meant to feel the guilt that Peyton caused to her family, and that of David Ibarra, the victim. She constantly contemplates what is right and wrong, struggling to feel whole in the story. Dessen does this flawlessly, and she makes it so easy to understand and sympathize with.
Also I adored how organic the relationship between Mac and Sydney felt. There’s something very tender and innocent about both of them, yet both are faced with conflicts in their lives that in a sense, make them much more mature and experienced than one would think. I truly loved how the relationship developed and transformed throughout the story.
And then Mac’s family’s pizza place. Can I just live there?
Saint Anything may be one of my new favourite Sarah Dessen novels. Everything about the story worked for me, and I connected with it in such an unexpected way. There’s always something comfortable when reading a Sarah Dessen novel, and while this one takes some darker turns and focuses on more challenging subjects, the emotional connection and hope that comes through in the story is effortlessly displayed. ReadingSaint Anything reminded me that change comes in many forms, and it’s the unexpected kind that always makes you grow a little tougher, a little wiser, and always more hopeful.